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Getting into a series with eight mainline entries and too many spinoffs is no mean feat. Where do you start with something like Yakuza? Obviously – and expected – the first game to release was a good choice, but so is Prequel 0, as is the all-new Like a Dragon. Three very different starting points. Fortunately, I stick to my gut and start at 0 (chronologically). If I didn’t, I’m not sure I’d like Kiwami and the next chapters. It’s the perfect introduction to the world and its characters.

Yakuza Kiwami – itself a remake of the PS2 original – is confusing. You are introduced to a group of random criminal overlords who die instantly, and a sworn brother who suddenly turns into a villain. The original Prison Front Kiryu and Ma prologue was so fast that you can’t fathom how much the entire Tojo clan has changed in the ten years that our protagonist was imprisoned. It’s rushed and lacks critical context.

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But in the context of 0, I know who Sohei Dojima is, the close relationship between Jin and Kiryu, how different Mashima has become, and how degenerate the Tojo clan is. Without this vital context, I would have been chasing several chapters as I scrambled to figure out who was who and why these humble puppets who died in the first place were so important. 0 tells the story, delving into Kiryu’s past to explore his relationship with Nishiki, while also giving Mashima more personality. Not only is he an eccentric masochist, but he is a tragic and masochistic figure, someone who has been racked and had to laugh out of trouble.His turn at the end of 0 may feel rushed, but because of this, Kiwami has so many weight.

0 laid the foundation for Kiwami and other games. The Tojo clan is at its peak and is extremely prosperous. The head of the family lives a carefree and luxurious life, vying for this small land where everything is alive. It feels like it’s on a much smaller scale than the later stories, but it makes the Tojo clan feel much bigger. They’ve settled down, stronger than ever, and it’s all about finer details. Seeing that grandiose Yakuza faction we saw in Kiwami and Kiwami 2 plunge into chaos, the tribe is in its final stages, at war with its neighbors and struggling to stay in the ranks, makes the leap from Kiwami’s prologue to Kiryu’s release even more influential. But it also makes Kiryu’s importance in the story all the more worthwhile.

His absence hurt the clan. Nishiki have no one to lean on, lose themselves, and when they’re idiots, no one can kick them in the back of the head. Kiryu is clearly important, Kiwami 2’s clan realizes it, and 0 puts all of that in perspective. Kiryu became a commoner, saddled with the clan’s goals, and somehow survived, clearing his name and restoring the Tojo clan to its former glory. He defied all odds and earned his reputation as the Dragon of Dojima, a yakuza legend – it was shown, not told. Meanwhile, Kiwami doesn’t let us see that, other than giving us all abilities and leveling up at once, which is more gameplay than a narrative-centric 0.

But aside from the downfall of Kiryu and the Tojo clan, the vacuous plot so narrowly focused on brings Kamurocho to life as its own character. It’s a dingy town of 0, with monotonous streets, muddy allies, shabby backyards, and little gang dens scattered all over the place. For all the details of the Tojo clan, Kamurocho is not a sparkling gem to call home. But the conspiracy and transformation plan that made people dying finally came true, and Kamurocho suddenly prospered. To Kiwami, it was a bright, neon city with a towering skyscraper at the center, the streets were cleared, and then history repeated itself in Majima’s own construction plans. Seeing the growth from dreary town to famous city is similar to Kiryu’s own character growth, the jump from 0 to Kiwami is a highlight that no other Yakuza game has.

I can’t imagine starting out in Kiwami and encountering a bunch of random dead people thrown into a city I barely know about, and I wouldn’t recommend it to anyone as a starting point. If you’re going to try Yakuza, which you absolutely should, choose 0. Nishiki and Kiryu’s relationship is a beautiful gut wrench that deserves more time in the sun, thank god they got it, Majima is at his prime and he’s the best ever, with More stories to chew on, laying the groundwork for the long and evolving history of the Tojo clan.

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